By Laredo Heat SC
The Laredo Heat SC picked up four important points in a span of three days on the road as it followed a 1-1 draw with Midland-Odessa by beating the Fort Worth Vaqueros FC 3-1 on Saturday night.
“It was important to come away from this road trip with no less than four points,” Laredo Heat SC head coach John Powell said. “We knew this was a game we had to win. It was a tough one, but the boys persevered, and they were clearly the better team. We got the points.”
With the points, the Heat (3-1-2, 11 points) are firmly in third place in the National Premier Soccer League’s Lone Star Conference with an average of 1.83 points per match. The Denton Diablos FC (5-1-1, 16 points) strengthened its hold on first place at 2.28 points per match by beating Irving FC 1-0 on Saturday, and the Midland Odessa Sockers FC (4-0-3, 15 points) is in second at 2.14 per match.
FC Brownsville (2-2-1, 7 points) is in position for the fourth and final playoff spot at 1.4 points per match, and Coyotes FC (3-4-0, 9 points) is close behind after beating Katy 1895 FC (2-3-1, 7 points) on Saturday. The loss to Denton dropped Irving FC (2-4-1, 7 points) down to seventh place ahead of only Fort Worth (0-6-1, 1 point).
The Heat continued to excel at keeping opponents out of the net as they allowed only one goal for the second straight game. They have allowed only eight goals through six games, and half of them have come on penalty kicks.
Laredo generated several scoring chances early Saturday against the Vaqueros, but it was continually foiled by Fort Worth keeper Chris Edwards. In the eighth minute, Gabriel Gacovicaj received a deep pass, and off the bounce he sent a cross on target to Nadav Datner on the left side. Datner put a header on the net but Edwards knocked it away.
In the 17th minute, Toi Yamaoka intercepted a pass with a header he directed to Datner in the left corner of the field. Datner fed it right back to him in the box, and Yamaoka was tripped while cutting to the left around a defender for a penalty kick. Datner took the kick, and Edwards dove to deflect away his shot at the lower left corner.
Edwards continued to rack up saves three minutes later. First he caught a point-blank shot from Tatsuma Yuki, then Datner sent a cross to Gacovicaj directly in front of the net. Gacovicaj elevated his shot and Edwards knocked it away. Yuki gathered the rebound and sent it back toward the center to Datner, and his shot was deflected off the crossbar. The 22nd minute featured another save on a shot by Datner.
Laredo’s consistent pressure finally paid off in the 27th minute. Approaching the right side of the box, Gacovicaj passed across to Yuki as he charged toward the net. Yuki’s shot was again knocked away by Edwards, but it deflected off a defender and into the net giving the Heat a 1-0 lead.
The lead only lasted a couple minutes as the Heat were called for a hand ball off a corner kick in the 29th minute and the Vaqueros got the ensuing penalty kick past Gage Rogers in the lower left corner to level the score.
The struggles to break away were reminiscent of Thursday when the Heat dominated possession throughout the first half only to find themselves mired in a 1-1 tie in the second half.
“It was déjà vu,” Powell said. “My message at halftime was don’t change anything. Just keep trusting each other, believe it will come and stick to how we play. Fort Worth is a storied club that has a good history. They are reigning champs. I know they are at the bottom of the table, but they are tough to play against. Our boys stuck to it, and their quality shone through in the second half.”
Powell’s plan paid off as Laredo returned the favor with its own penalty kick in the 51st minute. Gacovicaj was tackled just after crossing into the box. He froze Edwards on the penalty kick with a shot to the mid-left to take a 2-1 lead.
“It was good to see that, and it was good to see us step up and convert from the spot,” Powell said.
After being stymied by Edwards several times throughout the match, Datner got the best of him in the 75th minute. Erwin Regules sent a deep pass to get Datner all alone approaching the right side of the net. With no passing options available, Datner nutmegged Edwards to put the Heat up 3-1. It was his team-leading sixth goal of the season as he has scored nearly half of Laredo’s 13 goals through six games.
The Vaqueros responded quickly forcing Rogers to make three saves over the next three minutes. However, Laredo kept them in check the rest of the way to secure the victory.
The Heat play three of their remaining four games in the regular season at home starting this week. They host the first half of a home-and-away series with FC Brownsville (2-2-1, 7 points) at 8:00 pm on Wednesday, June 23 at the TAMIU Soccer Complex. If Laredo can sweep the series with Brownsville, it will secure a playoff berth regardless of any other results.
In their bid to complete the sweep and pick up six more points, Powell expects to do significant tweaking to the lineup as the Heat prepare to play for the third time in seven days.
“We’re excited to get to play in front of our home fans again,” Powell said. “We have a lot of work to do with the bodies. We have guys with lots of minutes on the legs, so you’re going to see some squad rotation. The depth of our team is really going to show the next two games. I’m excited for the guys that maybe haven’t been out there for a bunch of minutes. We’re going to see how everyone can play a part in what we’re doing this summer.”
Photo Credit: Laredo Heat SC